Tag Archives: david brin

Book Review: Glory Season

Book Name: Glory Season
Author: David Brin
First Published: 1993
Nominated: Hugo 1994 and Locus 1994

David Brin is an American scientist and writer of hard science fiction novels. His works have been New York Times Bestsellers and he has won multiple Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Campbell awards. Brin was born in Glendale, California. He graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a degree in astrophysics. He followed this with a master of science in applied physics and a doctorate of Philosophy in Space Science from the University of California, San Diego. He currently lives in Southern California with his wife and children.

“A living planet is a much more complex metaphor for deity than just a bigger father with a bigger fist.”
― David Brin, Glory Season

To understand the basis of the culture of Glory Season, you must go back three thousand years when a scientist named Lysos, the founder of the human colony on the planet of Stratos, used genetic engineering to change their local strain of humanity so that their reproduction was based on seasons. Men are sexually receptive in the summer and women are in the winter. When a woman conceives in the summer, she produces a mix of her own genes and that of the male, having an equal chance for a boy or girl child. When a woman conceives in the winter, she always produces a female clone of herself. Finally, the men of Stratos have been changed so that they are less aggressive during the times that they are less sexually receptive. The result is that most of the people of Stratos are successful group of women clones.

Into this feminist social backdrop, a pair of twins are born to a “hive” of clones called “Lamatia”. They specialize in commercial import/export banking. Maia and Leie are welcome to remain with the hive of their birth, like all variants born of the clone sisters, until they reach their majority. Then they will be thrust out into the world to survive as they will. The twins create a plan to pass themselves off as two members of a larger hive and hope to work as sailors on the seas of Stratos to make their fortunes. As “vars” (variants) they would be considered social inferiors, but as sisters of a “hive” they would lose the stigma.

Events prevent the two sisters from carrying off their plans. They are separated by the ship masters to work on different ships instead of remaining together. Leie is lost at sea and Maia, is injured while battling pirates. Maia leaves the sea and instead takes a job on a railroad while she tries to reconcile the loss of her sister and heal from her wounds. During this time, she becomes involved with a plot by “Perkinites” to eliminate men from an isolated valley and later the entire world of Stratos. Maia attempts to inform the planetary authorities and is put in prison by the Perkinites for her efforts.

Maia remains in prison a long time and discovers that her fellow prisoner is a male interstellar visitor from an untampered branch of humanity. This visitor is seeking a devise known as a “Jellicoe Former”, it is an advanced manufacturing facility that can act as a 3D printer for complicated, technological devises. On Stratos, a pastoral and low-technology society, the Former’s existence would be an eruption of new ideas that would change its stable society forever. Renna wants the machine in order to create items that would repair his spaceship and allow him to return home.

In the end, a climactic battle between political radicals, freed vars and a group of virtuous male sailors will determine the fate of the world and Maia’s personal destiny.

World building is an aspect of speculative fiction that sets it apart from more traditional genre. The author takes an idea of making an aspect of their world different from our own and uses it to explore new ideas of society and technology. To me, this is what sets great science fiction apart from the pretenders. David Brin is a master at this skill. Before he started his story in Glory Season, he had looked at the reproduction cycle of aphids; they reproduce clones of themselves during times of abundance and sexually reproduce during times of stressful environmental change. This gives them a reproductive advantage. Brin applied this concept to humans, using the pretext of genetic engineering to create humans who use this cyclic idea of reproduction, then applied the concept to their world and culture. What I found intriguing about his idea is that instead of making the clones part of a mechanical process, which is how traditionally cloning is displayed in science fiction, he made it a new biological process where sex and relationships took on new forms with his redesigned humanity. Since only women have wombs, they rise to predominance in his stable fictional society.

Glory Season Book CoverThe plot of Glory Season is decent, but not stellar. I still would recommend the book despite this. The culture that results from this new innate biologic process is alien in feel and yet retains enough humanity to allow the reader to feel sympathy for the characters and the problems that they face in the plot. It is worth exploring. My only real regret is that Glory Season is a stand alone novel. I would love a sequel so that I could return and see more of this unique and intriguing world.

Book Review: The Practice Effect

Book Name: The Practice Effect
Author: David Brin
First Published: 1984

David Brin is an American scientist and writer of hard science fiction novels. His work have been New York Times Bestsellers and he has won multiple Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Campbell awards. Brin was born in Glendale, California. He graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a degree in astrophysics. He followed this with a master of science in applied physics and a doctorate of Philosophy in Space Science from the University of California, San Diego. He currently lives in Southern California with his children.

The Practice Effect begins when scientist Dennis Nuel is barred from access to the Zievatron Project by fellow scientist and rival, Bernald Brady. Not only is Brady jealous of Nuel as a scientist, but there is a love triangle between the three that complicates their relationship. The Zievatron is a device that allows access to parallel worlds, a sort of portal into alternative realities. When the machine is activated and travels to an alternate reality, the return mechanism malfunctions. The two scientists realize that only Dennis has the skills to fix the machine. The only issue is that he must go into the alternate world in order to do this and retrieve the project.

Dennis follows the Zievatron into a parallel universe, where he is still on Earth, but in a world with significant differences from the one that he has left. The local inhabitants, a people known as the Coylians, speak English, but their society is a far cry from the modern day. It is more medieval with a structured class system. Gradually, Dennis learns that this society is built on a fundamental change of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Instead of objects being created to show their full potential and then gradually decaying over time as is normal in our reality, in this world objects only need to have a crude base. As the items are concentrated on by human thought, they are “practiced” and physically improved over time. Thus, a rough hewn stick can be practiced into a sword. A crude homespun garment gradually becomes a fine silk suit. The class system evolved so that the wealthy and privileged use the under classes to practice their goods into a beautiful and complex perfection.

Dennis’ arrive causes a stir because he not only has the ability to make items that work at the start and with practice become wondrous, but he uses his knowledge of technology from his own world to create things that the natives have never seen before. He becomes known as a “wizard” and falls under the attention of a local Baron named Kremer.

As he slowly puts together the materials that he needs to repair the zievatron and return to his home, he is pulled into the politics of this alternate world and finds himself pitted against Baron Kremer, who not only wishes to rule the world, but has plans to use Dennis for his own ends. Dennis must use his knowledge of science from our world and combine it with the strange practice effect to stop the Baron, repair the zievatron, and return to his home.

The Practice Effect Book CoverAuthor David Brin has written novels that are certainly more famous than The Practice Effect. The Postman was made into a movie starring Kevin Costner and his Uplift novels have won numerous awards. His current writing is far and above a better level of craftsmanship than in this early work. While this novel had a poor plot, weak characterizations, and unremarkable romantic relationships that were soon forgotten, the creation of this alternate world where the laws of nature are different and the physical and social ramifications of this are shown in a delightful and unique way. This is a clear forerunner to his development of science to propel the plot in his later novels. The concept of the practice effect itself makes this novel one that you should take a look at in addition to Brin’s other more well known works. To me it was as if the world was a character all unto itself. I kept wanting to see more of how the practice effect changed the lives of these people. Although I read this novel many years ago, I have never forgotten it and I feel it is a work that needs to be called attention to. Otherwise, you might miss out on a truly unique science fiction experience.